My village, Shimonohara, lies on the banks of the Gonokawa River. At a shade under 200 kilometres in length it is not a big river by any stretch of the imagination, but in Japan where rivers are short and fast it is the longest river in Western Japan.
The Gonokawa begins on the slopes of Mount Asa in the Chugoku Mountains in Hiroshima Prefecture, it then flows in a U-shape and doubles back on itself to enter the Japan Sea at Gotsu on the Shimane coast.
The largest town it passes through is Miyoshi, in Hiroshima, and it only has a population of 60,000. In fact, the whole watershed of 4,000 Sq. K. is sparsely populated which means there is absolutely no heavy industry, so the water is relatively pollution-free.
Like every other single river in Japan there are dams on the Gonokawa, ostensibly to control flooding, but in reality to provide money and jobs for the bloated construction industry.
Before the dams were built the river was navigable all the way up into Hiroshima, and that was the route taken by the gold and silver taken out of Iwami Silver mine on its way to Edo.
The Gonokawa river is home to many species of wildlife, including in one short stretch, Giant Salamanders, which grow to five feet in length. It was once caught for food, but is now protected. The river is famous for its Ayu (Sweetfish), and our local Ryokan is usually full on weekends in the fishing season.
Several people in surrounding villages still make their living catching Ayu from the long narrow boats that are still a common sight here. The Gonokawa River also supplies freshwater crabs and freshwater shrimp.
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